DS Log

Cheap Internet might just be a privacy nightmare

February 5, 2020

Some time ago, I went shopping for a TV. I didn’t yet have one, but the household decision was to get a TV. As with any new electronic equipment I am about to acquire, I started a week-long research on all sorts of TV specifications and what they meant, looking for reviews and figuring out a minmax I was happy with. During this time, I wasn’t surprised to learn that it was essentially impossible to buy a TV with modern specifications that didn’t have any of the ridiculous “smart” features.

All of those “smart” features, if enabled, could lead to a potential loss of privacy. By default, I consider anything that requires an Internet connection to be a private highway for free consumption of my data. And a lot of features in every TV required an Internet connection. I tried to fight fate for some days, but eventually settled on buying a “smart” TV and never connect it to the Internet.

However, all of this got me thinking: what’s stopping the TV from connecting to any open wireless network it finds? The fact that no TV (apparently) does this means that there must be some higher reason for that. I can think of a few technical reasons why you wouldn’t want to jump into any open network, but I don’t see any of those reasons convincing an executive not to do that. Or maybe they’re all just doing it, and someone is yet to discover this.

This question got lost in my mind and for many months and I just forgot about it, until some time ago when reading some news on the number of satellite launches that Starlink has already made. It was only then that I made a connection with how Kindle’s first edition didn’t need wifi and what the future might hold if we keep developing better and cheaper ways of wirelessly connecting computers around the world.

It’s very likely that whatever higher reason that prevents TVs from connecting to open networks will not stop TVs with cellular or satellite receivers from connecting to the Internet. And that’s a little bit sad, because I can definitely picture future TVs that are able to download any updates whenever they want, upload any data whenever they want, because you just can’t stop the damn thing from doing that.

Worse still, they won’t even use their connection to play your videos, but they will use it to download their updates and upload their “telemetry”.

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